Part of a series titled HOMEWARD: a conversation with people in the community who inspire me greatly.
I first was introduced to Krystal’s work through the collaborative digital cookbook/guide/ she put out called How to Take Care. It was released at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown and featured people from all over sharing recipes + practices of all sorts from how to make brothy beans to breathing exercises to chamomile vanilla sugar scrub bars to lilac cream scones to morning tea as a ritual. A potent toolbox for uncertain times- with balms for the heart, body, and mind. It was a project that raised money for and awareness around the rise in domestic violence during times of quarantine. That is just an example of one of the many projects woven into the rich tapestry of her practice. Krystal’s work with food is incredibly beautiful, while at the same time deeply thought (and action) provoking. I enjoy receiving the recipes she shares (check out her patreon here) just as much as the story and meaning behind them- and I know you will too.
Name: Krystal Mack
Occupation/Lifework: Interdisciplinary Creative (i wear many hats and i find this to be the best title to wrangle them all lol)
Homeplace: Baltimore, Maryland
Are there any rituals you cultivate in your home? If so, what are they?
i have a few rituals, but the one i value the most is my morning routine. i like to slowly ease into my workdays. i start by lighting a bit of Palo Santo, showering, and doing my morning skincare routine. Then i head downstairs and start work at 10 am with a warm drink to greet the day.
What has been your favorite uses for these pieces?
i like to use the cereal bowls for ramen, breakfast congee, and the occasional bowl of ice cream. My partner likes to use them as the name suggests….for cereal!
What does the word “vessel” symbolize/mean to you?
i write about vessels often. Briefly, i considered selling my wood carvings (mostly spoons) under the name WAV Woodworks. WAV was an acronym for We Are Vessels. When i think of the word vessel i think of objects like most people but i also think of human beings as living vessels.
Just like mugs, bowls, and spoons can be delivery systems for nourishment, joy, and comfort the same is true of us, our bodies, and our minds.
We are vessels for emotions and experiences as human beings. Vessels for darkness and light. Joy and pain. Foolishness and wisdom. As humans, our contents vary and what we contain is often based on how much we are forced to carry or what we are told we were meant to carry. Like your cereal bowls for example. They are perfectly made for the purpose of carrying cereal but, they can hold so many other things. Just because something or someone is created for a general-purpose does not mean that it cannot explore the other ways it can show up in the world. That exploration is up to the user of the vessel. And as a human being, blessed enough with this one vessel that is my mind, body, and spirit, it is up to me to determine how my vessel shows up in the world. It is up to me to determine its purpose. In spite of the projections society has and the labels it forces upon me, i determine what i hold. i determine my contents. This is obviously easier said than done but it is something that i try to be mindful of daily. You asked earlier if there were any rituals i cultivate in my home and i guess this too could be considered one. Reminding myself that i determine how i show up in the world.
When speaking about a holistically sustainable future, what do you feel is a step we all need to be taking to truly get there?
Reading and doing our own research. i think we as a society take for granted the access that we have to fact-based information and go headfirst into what’s directly in front of us without questioning the source or understanding how the information we are getting is presented to us. We live in a time where doom-scrolling is so very real. If we took some time away from the internet to read a book or look into our history i feel we would find some of the tools that we need to build a holistically sustainable future are already available to us and have been for some time.
What books, albums, places, people, or artists have shaped your personal bibliography?
Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, Ntozake Shange, Sonia Sanchez, and Zora Neale Hurston.
What is something that has been challenging to you recently, either personally or in your work/creative industry?
Working from home full-time has been a challenge. Prior to COVID-19, i was working as an Esthetician to support my creative practice. When the pandemic came to the states, i was furloughed and had more time to focus solely on my creative practice. At first, i thought this would be a breeze because focusing solely on my practice was a long-term goal. However, as time moved on i began to realize that working a day job outside of my practice actually helped provide a bit of structure that i needed to have more focus. This is especially true for an adult that struggles with Attention Deficit Disorder like myself. i’ve been having little wins and losses in creating a structure that works for me but its definitely a day to day process. Actually, who am i kidding, its more like hour by hour or minute by minute.
What led you towards doing your work with food- specifically in such a contextual/ way?
i think what lead me to work with food in this way was the need to as they say “do the work”. i was looking for a way to express my social observations and food so clearly became the appropriate medium for me. There is so much hidden context in food socially and some of it isn’t even hidden, we’ve just been conditioned to see it as this one-dimensional thing. But food is so much more than that. Our ancestors knew this. Our elders know this. Even we know this as children but somehow that understanding gets lost along the way. It can be a tool for liberation, play, healing, conversation, and community. To be blessed enough to have access to food and only use it in a one-dimensional way (consumption) is somewhat disrespectful to me. As a former improv student, i like to take the “yes, and” approach to food as it pertains to my practice. For example, i could prepare a bowl of soup for myself after a long, stressful day. It could at first glance be seen as just a bowl of turkey soup, but upon further observation, it could be seen as something more. It’s a bowl of turkey soup. Yes, and it’s a bowl of turkey soup using my grandmother’s recipe. Yes, and it’s the comestible representation of call and response. I called out for comfort in the form of a meal, and the response was a memory of being comforted by my grandmother’s soup. i believe that food has the ability to heal and empower in that way, on a spiritual level. i also believe that is one of the many reasons that Black and Brown communities struggle with food access. We struggle the most because our oppressors understand the power that food holds. This is especially true in indigenous communities. If i can draw connections to my experiences in this world and food, beyond consumption, it not only grounds and benefits me, but i think it also benefits others who are interested in going from solely a consumer in the food chain to a possible environmental steward and community member of a sustainable food web. The work i do requires a strong imagination, but thankfully i am surrounded by a global community that continuously inspires me to think bigger and create for the collective.
How does where you live inform and influence your work/well-being?
Baltimore heavily influences my work and well-being. Its easy for folks to see the negative things happening here and let that be all there is to this city. Places like Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis are merely reflections of this nation’s regard for Black people and the issues that we face. So when folks knock these cities or think that there isn’t anything of substance coming from these places it says a lot to me about who they are. The people here are what make it beautiful to me. There is a genuine warmth to folks in Baltimore. Whether or not that warmth is shared with you doesn’t take away the fact that it exists. You just have to earn it. i feel like in spite of its circumstances there is a level of dignity to Baltimore in that it doesn’t try to be something that it is not. It is as real as the folks who are from here and continue to call it home. i try to bring that dignity and authenticity to my work and make my city proud.
I love how your work continues to evolve and there is almost this seamless flux happening from an outside perspective (concept dinners, Studio IAO, music production, BLK//SUGAR, writing a memoir, residencies, and so much more). Could you speak a bit to creative evolution/metamorphosis? And any tips you have for creatives looking to incorporate more facets and ways to more deeply engage with their work?
It has been my experience that creative evolution is also personal evolution. What happens to me on a personal level affects my artistic view of the world around me. In my opinion, this is both good and bad. Good, because it presents the opportunity to learn, grow, and be victorious. Bad, because it presents the opportunity to become complacent, hopeless, a victim. i try my best to be objective when i create, but sometimes i feel that doesn’t fully honor the emotions i may be feeling or the experiences i’m going through. i find that when i am honest about what i am feeling and what i am going through (whether it is good or bad), it allows me to better contextualize that experience and better articulate my emotions. This further positions me as the author of my own story rather than some protagonist that life is happening to. It gives me the ability to fully feel and trust my experience, something that i am constantly told i have no agency over as a Black woman in this world. When i apply an interdisciplinary lens to my day to day life it allows me to feel more connected to my humanity. And given the current state of our country and the world, i feel that is something we all need to be reminded of, our humanity. The reality that we are all here for a very brief time and that there is so much to be learned and unlearned in order for us as human beings to grow and evolve…in order for us to move forward. We make mistakes. We are not perfect. But every day we have the opportunity to learn and unlearn. To move forward or remain stagnant. i feel that we often wait for some larger catalyst for change outside of ourselves but we in fact are the catalyst. We can intentionally birth the next chapter without tragedy or loss being the seed. And that is not to say that rebirth or a metamorphosis sparked by a tragedy or loss is less than because i find those types of rebirths to be brave. But it is just to suggest that we needn’t constantly position our rebirths or transitions as responses to traumatic events. As i mentioned before, we determine how we show up in the world. Given the choice of having my growth be of my own accord or reactionary, i’d prefer the former versus the latter.
As we head into the long winter, what are foods and meals that keep you warm and feeling whole? Do you find there are specific ingredients you are drawn to more than other times of the year- or any notes of seasonality that are woven through your work and/or home?
Hmmm, i guess i lean more towards warmth, comfort, and simplicity in the Winter. The cold weather always feels like such a shock to my system even though i know that it’s coming. So to ease the shock i tend to go for foods that ground me and make me feel at home. This looks like a lot of foods from my childhood. Chicken and Dumplings. A pot of collard greens. Beans and ham hocks. Eating the foods of my people in the south but also exploring ways to update those dishes. Roasted vegetables. i eat a lot more offal as well even though i’ve slowed down on it more over the years.
Where could we find you on a day off?
On a day off i am home! You can find me at home curled up with my partner as we both read. He is probably reading sci-fi and i am probably reading poetry. Our cat is likely curled up with us.